Friday, August 23, 2013

Is Sex Important in Today's Romance Novels?

How important are the sex scenes in today's romance novel? By the continued success of books like Fifty Shades and the copycats one would think it's pretty important.  Erotica and romances with very explicit sex continue to sell very well.  On the other hand, Inspirational Romance with no sex continues to sell well too. Then there are the majority of romance novels which are somewhere between those two ends of the continuum.

This is an age old question and there are readers on both sides.  Also, depending on genre, there are rules.  Inspirational romances concentrate on the relationship to God as an integral part of the romantic relationship, so no sex. Certain category lines, like Harlequin Romance and Harlequin American Romance are considered "sweet" meaning no sex or behind closed doors.  Then there is what appears to be the majority of romance novels, which are in the definitely sex on the page but ranges from a focus on feelings and euphemistic language to a more descriptive focus on action and body parts that create the action.

There is no doubt that sex is an integral part to marriage and to long term romantic relationships. Though there are perfectly happy relationships where sex is non-existent or very infrequent. Hmmm...I wonder if I could write that story?  Maybe.

I have to be honest and say I've always struggled with writing the sex scenes in my romance novels. Part of that is probably a reflection of my upbringing (no one ever talked about it); and part of that is a desire to make it truly a part of building the relationship and the trust, and the respect required in a long term romantic partner and a fulfilling sexual relationship.

In the first two books of my Sweetwater Canyon series, both of my heroines had issues with sex--one from an abusive previous relationship, the other from a rape.  Both heroines needed to get past these issues to be in a permanent relationship. It made sense to me that the way the sexual relationship progressed was important to both heroines believing they could successfully marry and live happil-ever-after. Because of their pasts, I also felt it was important to include descriptive sex scenes that built that trust and showed the sexual relationship purely in terms of love and permanence.

Now, I am finishing up the third book in my Sweetwater Canyon series. In this one, the sexual relationship is VERY different. This one is Sarah's story and she is a devout Christian. If you've read the first two books you already know that Sarah appears to be the more conservative one of the band, and she is also the more quiet. She never understood Rachel's ease with sex, and she questions the belief of others in the importance of having sex before marriage. Because of Sarah's beliefs there will be no sex in this book.  That doesn't mean there will be no sexual tension. There will be plenty, and she will question her beliefs as they seem to come in conflict with the man she falls in love with. But just like the previous two heroines, in this case Sarah must come to sex on her own terms or she will not trust the partnership.

As with my first two books, where I struggled to write the sex scenes and keep them true to the characters. In this book, I have frequently questioned myself around keeping the sex scenes out. After all, I know a lot of Christians who had sex before marriage and had no problems squaring it with their faith. I wonder if my readers will find Sarah's choices unbelievable in this day and age.

In the end I've decided to stay true to the story and to trust the readers. If they have followed the Sweetwater Canyon band this far, they already know I don't write the "usual" romance book. Because I DO believe sex is important in a romantic relationship, I also believe it is fraught with peril. The importance a woman puts on it can lead to all kinds of decisions that may not be good for her or the relationship in the long term. I think each woman comes into a sexual relationship in a different way, and must carry with her the background, cultural norms, and beliefs she's experienced in her life. To stray from that because "everyone else thinks you should" only makes the experience worse.  No two of us make the same decisions. Frequently, even the same person doesn't make the same decisions. The way one feels about sex at age 20, and marrying a high school sweetheart, may be very different at age 40 after a divorce and returning to the dating world.

Heart Strings, Sarah's Story, will be out in Fall. I hope you will join me in the continuing lives of the women of Sweetwater Canyon. And I'd love to hear your feedback about Sarah's choices once you've read the book.


Collette Cameron said...

Great post, Maggie! I tweeted for you.

Jessa Slade said...

I don't think you can go wrong if you are true to the characters and the story. And we all know sexual tension can be just as hot as any explicit action, sometimes even more so. After all, the question of "will she, won't he?" can drag on for entire seasons of TV shows. Why not tease us for most of a book?

Maggie Jaimeson said...

Thanks Collette and Jessa. I hope you are right. Now the question is if my sexual tension in Heart Strings will be tense enough? I'm sure the readers will let me know.

Deborah Starling said...

I enjoy a romance novel in which the couple really has to work for their relationship and the passion and love is put on hold just a little bit. It’s all about the sexual tension and build up that makes the relationship more enjoyable to read about(my opinion anyways….) I read a fantastic book recently that follows this formula called “Come Fly With Me” by author Judith Whitmore ( The story follows Kate, a beautiful, intelligent aerobatic pilot trapped in a loveless marriage with a man who works too much and takes her for granted. She uses flight as a means of escape and eventually looks to get her certification as a jet pilot. This is when she meets Rick, her brilliant, handsome and single instructor :) Rick has always had bad luck with women (major abandonment issues!) and he never thought he would love again. The two have a fantastic exchange and they bring out the best in one another. I feel the characters really do fall in love before “passion” gets in the way. Even then the book does not focus on heavily on their "sexual relationship" and I quite enjoy that about the book. Their love also doesn’t come easy and the novel has some surprise plot twists that you will not expect! I highly recommend this novel for those who are looking for excitement, love, wit and something more than just a sexy steamy romance novel!